Some Jews are more Jewish than others

The Israeli government pulls a controversial ad campaign warning Israelis in the U.S. their Jewish identity is at risk

We expect the Israeli government to warn its citizens against the dangers of intermarriage. But the Netanyahu government has been warning Israelis against marrying or associating too closely with other Jews–American Jews. One of the 30-second television ads, pulled from U.S. TV after an outcry among American journalists and bloggers, shows a young Israeli woman living in a U.S. city with a man who is implied to be Jewish-American. The guy, an American hipster if there ever was one, doesn’t understand why his girlfriend is sad on Yom Hazikaron, the Israeli memorial day. “They will always remain Israelis,” the announcer says in Hebrew. “Their partners may not understand what they’re talking about.” Steven Weiss, who first reported on the campaign for The Jewish Channel, summed up the message as “Marrying American Jews could make Israelis lose their sense of identities.” Or as the Netanyahu government sheepishly put it when announcing the cancellation of the project, they “clearly did not take into account American Jewish sensibilities.”

After receiving tips from viewers across the U.S., Weiss collected together several of these ads last month, announcing that “a concerted effort is targeting Israeli expatriates in at least five cities to convince them that their heritage will be lost if they don’t soon leave America to go back to Israel.” The campaign, created by the Israeli Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, uses every technique imaginable to make Israelis feel that their identity is in danger. One billboard urges people to leave America before their children start calling them “daddy” instead of addressing them in Hebrew. In another TV commercial, an Israeli couple is appalled to discover that their American-raised granddaughter thinks that she’s supposed to celebrate Christmas. The message is clear: Jews born and raised in America might just as well be goyim.

The Atlantic’s Israel specialist Jeffrey Goldberg, who translated some of the ads for his blog, was appalled at finding an anti-American message emanating from official Israeli productions. “I don’t think I have ever seen a demonstration of Israeli contempt for American Jews as obvious as these ads,” he fumed. But Sofa Landver, the minister who runs the department responsible for the ads, thinks that American critics are showing “foolishness” by taking offense, and that the response has been great from its target audience of expatriates: “We managed to touch all the right emotional buttons,” she enthused.

Talking to the Jewish Journal of Greater L.A., Landver said that she has “the highest respect” for American Jews, but that the campaign had nothing to do with Jewishness. “Minister Edelstein is the one who needs to communicate with the Jewish Community,” she said, referring to the Minister of Information and Diaspora. “I’m in charge of returning Israelis.” In other words, these ads aren’t saying that American Jews are less Jewish than Israelis; that’s someone else’s bureaucratic department. They’re just saying, as Landver put it, that “Israelis who linger too long in the Diaspora risk losing their Jewish roots.”

But some observers find it ironic that at the same time the Netanyahu government demands maximum American cooperation and respect, it is signing off on advertisements that portray America as an alien country, sapping the uniqueness of Israelis. “The message is: Dear American Jews, thank you for lobbying for American defense aid,” Goldberg wrote, “but, please, stay away from our sons and daughters.”

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